Dysfunction, Ideology, and Illusions Undermine Serious Policy

The democrats want to pass the Shaheen-Portman legislation which is not very meaningful. Yet, they will not permit amendments to the legislation. The Republicans want a vote on Keystone XL and one on LNG exports which Senator Reid won’t permit. So, nothing gets done. Indeed, the Senate failed to vote for cloture Monday.

Not passing Shaheen-Portman is no big loss. Energy intensity, the measure of energy consumed per dollar of GDP has been declining for years and EIA projects continued reductions in the coming decades—25% for the industrial sector, 17% for commercial, and 27% in residential energy use. In spite of past and projected progress, Senators have concluded that more should be achieved without regard to costs or unintended consequences.

This just another case of “Washington Knows Best”: the notion that the government is smarter than both consumer self-interest and market forces. Time and time again this philosophy has failed but politicians keep on trying. As Groucho Marx once observed, politics is “the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.”

Since the first energy crisis in 1973, Congress and successive administrations have misdiagnosed the energy problem and applied one flawed policy after another. In spite of all those bad decisions, starting with price and allocation controls and extending to alternative energy industrial policies, our nation has moved in the right direction because of market forces, technology, and private investment. We have gone from importing about two-thirds of our oil to producing oil at levels not seen in 20 years, achieved major gains in energy efficiency, reversing the decline in natural gas production and improving the quality of the air we breathe. With policy based on facts, those achievements could have been achieved sooner and at a lower cost.

Looking to the future, there unfortunately will be more business as usual in Congress. Ideology and excessive partisanship will undoubtedly undermine serious efforts to find common ground on all the major issues confronting our nation. A change in control of the Senate after the November elections will not mean more than a reversal of roles by the two parties unless both parties become committed to serious bi-partisanship. And without that, our nation will continue to drift economically and socially. The low regard for Congress by Americans across the political spectrum is not healthy. Politicians from the left and right should be more worried about the consequences of political discontent that they are causing. They should take our political history a little more seriously and accept that the political philosophy of the American people is revolves around the middle of the road. As Henry Clay once observed, politics is not about ideology or political purity. It is about governing. And, if you can’t compromise, you can’t govern. Government on auto-pilot is not governing.

The energy breakthroughs that have come from natural gas development, horizontal drilling, and seismic technology put us in a position to reshape the global energy market place and provide a needed boost to the economy. The inability of the Senate to take the important actions needed to achieve that promise is truly tragic and irresponsible.

This article appeared on the National Journal Energy Insiders weblog at http://disqus.com/wokeefe/

Partner & Fellow Blogs